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Letters from election board on voter ID cause confusion

Document telling voters they must show ID mailed after judge’s decision

    ATLANTA — Tens of thousands of Georgia voters recently received letters telling them that they must show a photo ID to cast a ballot Nov. 7 — a message that could create confusion on Election Day since a state judge has blocked enforcement of that voting requirement.
    The State Board of Elections has sent more than 300,000 of the letters statewide. About 20,000 of them were mailed after the judge issued his order Sept. 19.
    State Board of Elections Vice Chair Claud ‘‘Tex’’ McIver said he does not expect voter confusion will be a problem this fall.
    ‘‘Just walk in the door,’’ McIver said in a telephone interview Friday. ‘‘There should be no reason for confusion.’’
    The one-page letter says the recipient is on a list of registered voters who might not have a driver’s license or photo ID card. It requests those who do have licenses to contact the county elections and registrations office and let it know their IDs are valid. The letter goes on to say that voters can use five other forms of photo ID when voting.
    But for the Nov. 7 elections — in the wake of the most recent court ruling — voters will still be able to present 17 different forms of ID. The IDs, including many without photos, can range from a utility bill to a Social Security card. The Georgia photo ID law had narrowed that list to six forms of photo identification.
    For months, lawyers have been battling the issue in federal and state courts. While supporters of the photo ID law — primarily Republicans — have said it is needed to protect against voter fraud, opponents claim the motivation behind the rule is partisan and meant to deliberately disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters who are less likely than other voters to have a driver’s license or other valid photo ID.
    Critics say those voters are also less likely to vote Republican.
    The letters were printed in batches. When one batch was complete, it was mailed and another begun. About 280,000 letters were mailed before Bedford’s ruling, McIver said. The remaining 20,000 went out afterward, at McIver’s direction.
    ‘‘I had two court orders requiring different things,’’ said McIver, referring to the decision in Superior Court banning the law, and a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block the law, but to reconsider the issue for the November election based on the state’s voter education efforts.
    ‘‘In order to comply with (the federal judge’s) order, I permitted the final 20,000 letters to stay in the mail and to reach people,’’ he said.
    McIver said the State Elections Board has attempted to minimize confusion by communicating with county registrars and updating the agency’s Web site. There are no plans for additional direct mailings or public service announcements similar to the efforts surrounding the new law before it was blocked, and McIver said there isn’t enough money left in the budget to pay for either initiative.
    He estimates about $10,000 of the budget is still unspent.
    Ashley Holt, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said Friday the office had received some calls about the issue.
    ‘‘People are concerned because the law is no longer in effect,’’ Holt said, explaining that some voters didn’t know why they had been contacted. ‘‘In some instances, they have indicated that they do, in fact, have driver’s licenses.’’
    Some groups are working to counteract possible confusion over the letters. The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda is planning an automated call campaign next week to the 305,000 voters who received letters from the board of elections, said Executive Director Helen Butler. Workers with the group are also reminding voters to cast a ballot early or absentee, and the group will issue public service announcements.
    ‘‘I’m concerned because those letters went out and they really shouldn’t have gone out until the ruling was made by the judge, but they went out anyway in a rush to prevent people from voting,’’ Butler said. ‘‘I’m saying, ’Don’t let anything prevent you from voting. Exercise your rights.’’’

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